Instinctive Alerts

Most wearables miss the mark with their vibration notifications because they repeatedly disrupt your flow of thought for unimportant alerts, or require you to memorize the meaning of vibration patterns. But humans instinctively understand that touch can communicate importance and intrinsic meaning. We utilized this “instinct” to build the Instinctive Alerts Framework.

The Instinctive Alerts Framework communicates to you using tactile effects, without requiring additional audio or visuals. It provides an organized approach for designing tactile notifications that utilize natural human understanding of touch sensations to facilitate meaningful communication.

Instinctive Alerts span two dimensions: Context and Attention. Context asks, “Does the alert relate to a specific current user activity or not?” Attention asks, “Is the alert important enough to interrupt the user?” Based on our own research, and combined with publicly available consumer behavior research, the Instinctive Alerts Framework recognizes that the strength and duration of tactile effects should correlate directly to the level of user attention required. This fundamental principle led to the creation of five distinct effect categories that we call Now This, Know This, Do This, Review This, and Changed This.

Our design team collaborated closely with our user research team to create the framework. We analyzed existing notifications, and researched how early adopters of wearables were naturally classifying and responding to alerts. We then created and validated design guidelines that correlated tactile design parameter ranges to notification types. Components of the resulting product were adopted by major wearables OEMs.


The following map shows how the categories are laid out along the dimensions of duration and strength. The examples of use cases provided within the categories are just examples; the framework is flexible enough to allow any wearable notification to be classified into one of the categories, and then represented by a tactile effect within the parametric boundaries of that category.

InstinctiveAlerts_Map.jpgUsing this framework, tactile effects are designed to intuitively direct your response from the first time you use it, and provide a natural learning curve for understanding the specific meaning of the alerts over time. For example, a notification that is time sensitive and urgent, like an incoming phone call, may have a more rapid and noticeable tactile effect as a part of the Now This category, whereas a subtler Review This effect could communicate the receipt of a less time-sensitive email.

Here are some screenshots from the demo app we designed to showcase the product:


Media coverage: